MOOREA, French Polynesia — We were awakened from a sound sleep by the sound of a rooster crowing. Upon looking out the window, my wife, Mary, and I were reminded that we were indeed not home but on the beautiful island of Moorea.
We were visiting Tahiti, a fulfillment of a lifelong dream of mine. Why Tahiti?
Perhaps it was my imagination fueled by reading about the early European explorers in the Pacific and the mutiny on the Bounty. Or maybe it was remembering a 1950s television show my mother watched called "Adventures in Paradise" or just the thought of being with my wife on a tropical island. Whatever the reason, the motivation to visit Tahiti has been there for as long as I remember.
I was worried that since I had wanted to visit for such a long time that actually being there would be a disappointment — maybe it wouldn’t be as beautiful or the experience as nice as I imagined. I was wrong on both counts.
The islands are so pretty that words and even photographs can't portray their beauty adequately. In addition, the Polynesian spirit of hospitality is alive and well in these islands.
Moorea is stunning. It is considered by some to be the inspiration for Bali Hai from author James Michener. It looks like a jewel from the airport and ferry dock 12 miles away in Papeete and only gets better upon arrival. The island is covered with verdant green flower and fauna everywhere. The exception is the steep mountain cliffs visible from most of the island.
Our accommodations at the Moorea Pearl Resort and Spa were a separate bungalow with a small splash pool. This allowed us to relax, get some sun and cool off in privacy. We couldn’t see the lagoon from our room, but we were surrounded with coconut trees and vistas of the mountains.
We rented a car and drove around the island. We couldn’t get lost, because there is one main road around the island. But we did lose our way trying to get to the Belvédère lookout from which Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay can be seen. We did make a small detour but eventually found the lookout and the view.
The road weaves around both bays, but being able to see both bays at the same time while behind us was a sheer cliff going up another 1,000 feet (it seemed) was marvelous.
For those interested in learning about Tahitian culture, Tiki Village is the place to go. The village is a small area where the approximately 20 residents are Tahitian craftspeople who live and work at the site. They make a wide variety of handicrafts, and you can even get a tattoo if you like.
A guide is assigned to you, and he or she shows escorts you through the village explaining Tahitian culture and introducing you to the other artists. There is a dance show at lunchtime and a bigger production at dinnertime. A model pearl farm just offshore is accessible by canoe. Our canoe guide was very enjoyable and entertaining and the highlight of our visit.
Tiki Village is much smaller and not on the same scale as the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu, Hawaii, but is nonetheless enjoyable.
Our favorite activity was a jet ski tour. We were soon skipping across the lagoon, out to the open ocean, back into the lagoon and going single file through the coral reefs. We stopped at the mouth of Cook’s Bay, turned off the engine and listened to our guide explaining the history of the island. We learned that Captain James Cook did visit Moorea but never anchored in the bay named for him, but Opunohu Bay instead.
Further down the coast, we stopped relatively close to the InterContinental Resort and dismounted into about 3 1/2 feet of water. Immediately, we were surrounded by manta rays looking for lunch. There were also reef sharks, as well as many other types of tropical fish.
The rays would come up and touch each person as they passed by. The jet ski guide gave us some bits of fish to feed the rays, which have a mouth on their bottom side, but we fed them though an opening right behind their eyes on the top of their head. It seemed strange to think about having two ways to ingest food.
Another popular activity on Moorea is a sunset cruise on a big boat. We did our own sunset cruise by using one of the kayaks from the hotel, paddling out into the lagoon before sunset and then watching the sun disappear beneath the horizon from offshore. We had the sun going down in front of us, the island profile on our left side and complete quiet.
We had heard that the best way to be introduced to Bora Bora is to sit on the left side of plane (facing front) so the views of the island can be seen upon arrival. We wouldn’t know. We did have seats on the left side of the plane, but it was so cloudy on the day we arrived that we could see only bits and pieces of the island and the famous lagoon upon landing. The clouds then erupted in a downpour.
The airport in Bora Bora does not have a road to it, which means that all passengers leave by boat. On most days, this would be a good thing. On the day of our arrival with the downpour, the boat ride turned into an adventure. Even one of the hotel employees accompanying us on the boat appeared to be nervous.
By the time we arrived at our over-water bungalow, we were as wet as if we had jumped into the lagoon. That night, the wind blew so hard we wondered if the bungalow would still be there in the morning.
From this inauspicious start, things got better. The view from our over-water bungalow toward Bora Bora was breathtaking. Staying in these bungalows is not cheap, but if you come this far, we highly recommend springing for this accommodation option.
The best part of Bora Bora is the lagoon. Different hues of blue are everywhere you look, with clear, inviting water just below your over-water bungalow. It’s exhilarating to wake up to that view.
Our favorite activity again was a jet ski excursion. We went around the entire island of Bora Bora, stopping only of Matira Point for the view and again by the St. Regis Bora Bora, the hotel where the Vince Vaughn movie “Couples Retreat” was filmed. There we floated on the lagoon just offshore and were able to swim.
After returning to the other side of the island we stopped at a motu (small islands around the reef) close to where we began the tour to husk coconuts and make coconut milk. The guide/instructor showed how easy it is to husk a coconut, and he made it look that way. Unfortunately, my experience wasn’t has smooth as our guide's. Eventually, I managed to get the husk off my coconut after some time and effort and I did break it in the middle with only one blow.
Too soon, it seemed, it was time to return home, and our trip of a lifetime was over. Was it worth it?
Tahiti was the 31st country I have visited — and it is the most beautiful place I have been to.
Most European explorers who stopped in Tahiti in the 18th century had visited much of the known world at that time and some ended up discovering new islands and lands. They were virtually unanimous in praising the beauty of Tahiti. William Bligh, the Bounty's captain, called Tahiti “the paradise of the world.”